Australia

Where:
Noma Australia
23 Barangaroo Ave
Barangaroo, Sydney, Australia

Price:
AUD485 (USD372 / HKD2,890) per person (with the matched wines clocking in at AUD215 (USD165 / HKD1,280).

The deal:
The omnipotent reputation and weight of Noma is crushing. So much so that Noma can announce that it’s going to leave its digs in Copenhagen, Denmark and spend 10 weeks in Sydney, Australia and even with the eye watering price tag and not knowing exactly what this will entail, a throng of eager punters crushed the servers and snapped up all of the available tickets in mere minutes and then 27,000 wannabe customers piled onto the waitlist in the faint hope that someone might give their golden ticket away. Through some judicious planning which involved a coordinated syndicate of food obsessed assholes agreeing to target certain dates and table sizes, I was lucky enough to secure a booking for a table of eight and planned an international trip to Sydney around it.

Our booking was for Noma Australia’s third last night in town and I’d tried to stay on a relative media blackout, spotting the occasional picture online but resisting the urge to read the write ups so I could approach it without any preconceptions. Arriving just as the Sydney sun was slipping away over the harbour, we sit outside on the wooden table and benches as Noma’s waitstaff efficiently flit around and sort us out with an aperitif, their take on the Snakebite as we have a clear view of their chefs preparing various components in both their inside and outside kitchen. The choice of the Snakebite sets an indicative humorous tone which pervades some dishes, playing on a drink which traditionally is a blend of cheap beer and cider (sometimes with the addition of red cordial to hide the alcohol related atrocities which lurk below), favoured by young Australians who don’t know better other than they want to get wasted as quickly as possible. In this rendition though, it’s a cider / beer inspired blend made by Ashley Huntington of Two Metre Tall in Tasmania, using a combination of a seven year old ale, a two year old apple cider, a two year old pear cider and young soured ale, which is lightly effervescent and highly drinkable. I guess old Australian drinking habits die hard because I could have easily finished off a bottle of this.

Even at the end of ten weeks just as the Australian summer turns itself into autumn, the staff show not a shred of apathy and in fact seem to be beaming from their time in Australia, forming a guard to greet every table as they pass through the entrance and hold me back, René Redzepi himself is front and centre greeting guests with a beatific smile. I resist all urge to lunge towards him to grab a tuft of his hair to sew into my deranged voodoo chef doll which enjoys foraging and exploring the boundaries of local produce and instead smile politely and try to act like oh hay, no biggie, it’s just René welcoming me into motherfucking NOMA AUSTRALIA.

The Foolscap Studio designed dining room is straight forward and simple, taking cues from the Australian outback as well as Noma’s Danish heritage, with the art work taking inspiration from the ochre hued Australian landscape and the placement of several native blackboy grass trees. The Carl Hansen & Sons wooden tables and chairs have been shipped in from Denmark with the occasional wallaby fur pelt strewn across the back of a chair and a purposefully tousled bouquet of Australian foliage and flowers sitting in the centre of every table. There’s thirteen courses (ten savoury courses and three desserts) and no written menu is presented, with each course and the provenance of all the locally sourced ingredients explained by the enthusiastic staff at the beginning of each course.

The first tasting dish is the unripe macadamia and spanner crab, which uses thin slices of green macadamia nuts in a clear, chilled spanner crab consommé with a touch of rose oil. Served in an earthen stoneware bowl surrounded by ice, our waiter lets us know that it took the Noma team three days and several knives to figure out how to prise an unripe and stubborn macadamia from its shell. The sweet green macadamia is reminiscent of a firm water chestnut, playing well with the cool, sweet spanner crab consommé with only a hint of the floral rose peeking through.

The wild seasonal berries flavoured with gubinge (Kakadu plum), is a plate of native berries (including lillypillies, lemon aspen and muntries) and pickled lemon myrtle buds.  It’s beautiful as fuck, all pale pinks, greens, creams and yellows with the white powder of a Kakadu plum dusted all over. It’s an intense mix of sweet against sour, astringent and salty flavor profiles, the Kakadu plum powder reminding me of how the Taiwanese use plum powder on their pineapple or apples, to get that same fuck yeah salty and sweet flavor contrast.

The porridge of golden and desert oak wattleseed with saltbush looks innocuous enough, consisting of three saltbush leaves which are used to wrap a porridge made from two types of wattleseeds which have been boiled for hours to crack their tough outer seed cases, topped with a green oil made from anise myrtle. A finger lime and its caviar like insides is squeezed over this dish to cut through all the verdant flavours and nutty tones and this is the first dish of the night which knocks me the fuck over. I was the slowest person on my table to eat this dish because I wanted to understand every part of it on its own and all together and by the time I’d done this, I’d already eaten two of the three parcels, so I had to slow the fuck down so I could fully process what the fuck was going on in the final saltbush parcel as I declared multiple times that I was having a serious fuck yeah moment.

The seafood platter and crocodile fat, is five shellfish that are perched across smooth river rocks and topped with shards of chicken stock skin (imagine the film that forms when you roast a chicken and the oil drips to the pan and you allow that to cool slightly) painted with crocodile fat that look like the rock pools that dot our Australian coastline. I have no reference point for what crocodile fat should taste like and while the shards are interesting, it’s really all about the sweet simple flesh of the clams, mussel, pippi and oyster.

The WA deep sea snow crab with cured egg yolk comes with the René Redzepi’s claim that he thinks that this deep sea snow crab from Albany, located on the southern coast of Western Australia is one of the best in the world and it’s impossible not to feel some sort of patriotic pang of pride that this is Australia punching out its best on the global crab stage. This dish is fucking spectacular, the barely warm flesh of the snow crab just picked from its shell is mixed with an egg yolk which has been cured in kangaroo garum (fermented sauce made from kangaroo mince, which Noma started making back in October), rice koji (a fermented culture fed on rice, kept in a warm place)  and smoked butter. To mix this warm, sweet delicate meat with the cured egg yolk feels reminiscent of the salty egg yolks that you’ve had in Hong Kong, but topped with this barely there fish-sauce like note from the fermented kangaroo meat and koji creates something you’ve never had before but with a few familiar reference points.

That’s not to say that it’s all ecstatic rapture and the unbelievable swelling of new flavours. Noma’s take on the Australian tradition of the meat pie is made from dried scallops and topped with nasturtium flowers. The pie itself is a kelp crust, filled with nasturtium stems, topped with a brown, viscous and slightly grainy, sticky frozen topping made from combining dried Tasmanian scallops together with beeswax and elderflower oil.  Unfortunately, it reminds me of the brown grease that drips from my rangehood when it’s overdue for a clean. This is eaten with two accompanying yellow and orange nasturtium flowers (the earlier sittings at Noma ate this with a lantana flower), their peppery sharp flavour cutting through this greasy, rich scallop chilled fudge like paste but I’m unable to fully shake the smell of stale oil from my rangehood.

The next three courses are the BBQ’d milk ‘dumpling’ with marron and magpie goose, the simply named truffle and avocado and the sea urchin and tomato dried with pepper berries. The ‘dumpling’ uses a crispy milk skin crepe to wrap together a barely cooked marron (a small Australian lobster-like crustacean) with the meatier punch of the gamey magpie goose, all wrapped together in a nasturtium leaf. I’ve never eaten magpie goose but understand that it’s a bird from the Northern Territory that’s almost regarded as a pest given its predilection for eating mangoes.  The truffle and avocado is a single slice of creamy avocado, topped with a black truffle ragout which is a simple fuck yeah interlude from all the layered, complex dishes before it. To reset the palate for the final savoury course, it’s a clean and fresh fuck yeah dish of Tasmanian sundried bush tomatoes, dehydrated for eight hours, topped with subtle Southern NSW sea urchins from Ulladulla and a broth made from native pepper berries (with shades of the Sichuan pepper) and elderflower oil.

The final savoury course is one of my absolute fuck yeah favourites of the night, Noma’s take on the Australian pub meal, the abalone schnitzel with bush condiments. Or as it’s more affectionately known in Australia, the schnitty. Served with a knotted bouquet of Australian green herbs (including Warrigal Greens), Kakadu plum, nuts (palm nut, Atherton Oak Nut), an assortment of seaweed (sea fennel, glass beads and Neptune’s Necklace), a stem of mat rush and the tiniest half of a native Australian sandpaper fig. The abalone has been crumbed and fried, after some sort of complicated cooking technique applied to it, to make an otherwise chewy shellfish into something tender.  The schnitty is fucking great on its own but by combining a bite of this schnitty with the Australian accoutrements is when it transcends fucking everything.  It’s the sweet, young slightly starchy stem of the mat rush. The grassy bouquet of green herbs which cut through the fat of the schnitzel and smash you in the face. The finger lime makes another appearance with its acidic, citrus pearls bursting in your mouth to cut through the fried schnitzel and the green notes. I want to eat this dish again just so I can really get my head around all the fuck yeah Australian foliage and seaweed magic that was happening on this plate.

The next three dessert courses have been much discussed by the press and it’s easy to see why given the green ants on fruit and the highly photogenic riffs on the Australian classics, the lamington (a chocolate and desiccated coconut covered sponge) and the Golden Gaytime ice-cream (a toffee and vanilla ice-cream dipped in chocolate and wrapped in honeycomb biscuits, on a wooden popsicle-stick). ice-cream.  The first fruit based dessert, marinated fresh fruit, is simple, a piece of mango wrapped in a palm leaf and topped with small dried green ants, and a cube of pineapple and watermelon all set on ice.  I wryly smile to myself as I think about how instead of getting food for ants, I’m actually getting food with ants.  As you can expect, each piece of fruit is intense and represents a best in class example of that fruit, with the dried green eats tasting exactly as you’d imagine if you’ve ever squashed an ant.

The rum lamington is all white, an airy piece of cake which is pumped full of Black Head Rum made just north of Sydney, with the “coconut” made from grated solidified milk, sitting in a red pool of native tamarind which isn’t as sour as the tamarind I’m used to.  The native tamarind sauce cuts through the sweetness as the lamington dissolves to nothing in your mouth. While tasty it’s not knock your lights out delicious and relies more on its story and reference to what a lamington is.

The final course is the peanut milk and freekah “Baytime”, which looks like a little a mini-rustic Magnum ice-cream, with its riberry stick instead of the traditional wooden paddlepop.  The ice-cream component has been made from a raw peanut milk and there’s a caramel centre, before it’s coated with a freekah glaze, that gives it the appearance of the chocolate coating of a Golden Gaytime.  Freekah is an ancient grain which Noma have roasted until it’s dark and in the glaze, it tastes like a deep, roasted grain with some chocolate overtones (even though there’s no chocolate in it).  It’s fun and interesting, a humorous and earthy nod to an Australian ice-cream icon but not a blockbuster dessert on its own.  With the food all done, we go outside to take our final digestifs and René makes the rounds to the remaining tables outside, stopping in to say hello (although he didn’t make it to our table), before we leave to literally and mentally digest everything that’s gone before.

When I got home that night, I actually couldn’t sleep because I was too busy trying to process exactly why I had this downright, primal and visceral reaction to this meal. The feeling when your heart can’t even fit your chest and you shake your head because you can’t figure out why did this meal resonate in every part of your being?  And then days later, with some furious internal workshopping as to why this moved my internal needle so much, I slowly began to pull together the more nebulous threads to why Noma Australia felt so personally Australian. Because sure, at first glance the Australian connection is so fucking obvious, it’s the madness of René Redzepi and his globally sourced Noma team coming to Australia to seek out these indigenous ingredients which Australia itself doesn’t use with regularity and then making that work within some sort of commercial context.  It’s the subtle nod to Australian food icons such as the lamington or the meat pie. But then it’s the realisation that for all these new ingredients and highly technical preparative techniques what lodges it in my psyche is the association to personal shit that you know from actually growing up in Australia:

It’s the bunch of native Australian herbs with the schnitzel, which hit you in the back of your throat like the smell of freshly mown grass because fuck, we had the luxury and privilege of lawns in Australia.

It’s the quarters of lillypillies in the wild seasonal berries assortment that you remember from the novelty of being able to eat something that looked like a tiny pale pink apple, straight from the tree in your backyard as a kid.

It’s the verdant, fragrant oils distilled from Australian foliage used in the saltbush wattleseed porridge that remind you of the eucalyptus and lemon myrtle leaves you’ve picked when you’ve been in the Australian bush on school camp and crushed them between your fingers, to leave that green smell of fresh gum trees on your fingers that will never as long as you’re alive will remind you of anything other than Australia.

It’s the shellfish nestled in the smooth river rocks which throw you back to that time you were under the almost surreal azure skies and poking around the crystal clear rock pools of some remote part of Australia’s jagged coast line where every rock you moved with a stick saw five things move the fuck away from you.

It’s the use of nasturtium flowers and stems which remind you of how nasturtiums used to grow almost like weeds in your backyard and eating the flowers as a kid before you spat them out in sheer disgust, wondering why anyone would ever want to eat these stinky, peppery pungent flowers (and now look at you, you’re paying hundreds of dollars for the privilege).

It’s the smear of black truffle ragout on a piece of avocado which you already think FUCK YEAH AUSTRALIA because of the dire avocado situation in Hong Kong. But the truffle ragout paste is black and filled with vaguely yeasty and umami tones giving you some poshed up fancy as fuck take to all the avocado toast with a smear of Australia’s real black gold, Vegemite, that you’ve devoured in this lifetime.

It’s the delicate strand of glass bead and Neptune’s Necklace seaweed which burst in your mouth and remind you of the sargassum seaweed balls that you popped between your fingers when you were down at the beach on school holidays.

It’s when you eat the zingy green ants perched on the mango for dessert which while you’ve never eaten ants before, the taste reminds you of sitting on some warm lawn, the tiny stinging bites of these anty fuckers and the smell of the sharp formic acid after you’ve crushed their feeble bodies against your legs.

So you take this body of personal Australia experience and process that against the fact it’s been a Danish chef who’s shown it to you and then you set that against everything that’s conspired to let you be there, to have this in your existence. Getting the tickets to Noma Australia. Having the time and means to get your ass to Sydney to effectively have dinner. With everything lined up, you then get to have a dining experience which speaks so uniquely to what you know as an Australian and then expands upon that by showing you all sorts of shit you didn’t even know. Noma Australia moved me in a seriously major way and it crystallised everything I fucking love about food and eating.

Because what is better than food that moves you? Food where absolutely everything on that plate has been pored over and deliberated on to be a distillation of what a chef is passionate about, what he truly believes in and presenting this fucking incredible innovative take on unconventional ingredients and still make the sum greater than its individual parts. Where in the ensuing days and weeks, you’re still trying to fucking figure it out in your head as to why it was such a fucking potent experience? I eat so much all the time but I’ve never had an experience which has thrown up so many thoughts and questions days later. I desperately want to know every single thing and detail behind this meal so I can better understand how Noma ended up at this final point for their Australian menu and how did they distil so much of this fucking amazing country into thirteen plates of food.

This was a meal which at the time it hits you in the chest with the impact of something totally fucking new but then pulls you in by the shoulders, to kiss you softly on the forehead with familiarity and nostalgia.

And with that, I will never forget you Noma Australia.

Verdict:
ALL THE FUCK YEAHS EVER.

Where:
Monopole
71A Macleay Street
Potts Point NSW Australia

Phone:
+612 9360 4410

Price:
Mains range from AUD20 – AUD28, but you’ll need more than one per person.

The deal:
This was one of those dining experiences which is nice enough at the time but even a week later, I’m struggling to remember what I really enjoyed on the night.  Yeah, there’s your tip off already, use of ‘nice’ which is on the FYN forbidden vocabulary list.  There were some good points – the charcuterie plate (although, AUD26 seems pretty fucking steep to me, even with my AUD pricing glasses on) and the chicken liver parfait.  There were some low points – service was a bit tardy (I had to make thirsty face at one point to get an aperitif), price to quantity of food was veering dangerously close to ‘food for ants’ territory and I am still taking offence to the trevally dish we had which seemed to be in absentia trevally except for a few slivers (srs, if you’re going to pull this shit at least list it as ‘a hint of trevally’, gotta keep it real Monopole).  I didn’t do dessert given how uninspiring they sounded.  I’ll confess, was concerned by ‘Nectarine, almond milk and blueberry’.  Yes, singular blueberry description.  Whether it was a typo or not, we’ll never know – but I knew the rage that was going to follow if a single, though accurately described, blueberry came floating to my table in a sea of almond milk for AUD14.

Ultimately, Monopole was one of those restaurants where I wouldn’t be upset about if I had to go back to but I’d never actively seek a return there.  Which is the heart of the fuck yeah / fuck no rating system.  Life’s too fucking short for nice.

The verdict:
Fuck no.

Where:
Woolwich Pier Hotel
2 Gale Street
Woolwich NSW Australia

Phone:
+612 9817 2204

Price:
AUD20ish for mains.  AUD14 for cocktails.

The deal:
I used to work with a guy who maintained that the nickname for Hunters Hill is ‘Sausage Hill’, because if you lived in Hunters Hill all you could afford to eat was sausage.  I guess he never bought sausage in HK because that shit is expensive.  It’s pretty apparent why the Woolwich Pier Hotel won Best Pub in NSW because aside from the banging hilltop Sydney city and water views, this pub is at peace with doing pub food and is busting out the good shit at higher than average pub food prices but actually matching the quality in a fair and mathematically sound equation.  Cocktails are reasonably priced and aren’t anaemic, watery, over sugared nightmares.  Menu was solid as a rock with a bag of rocks on it, rocking out with its cock out – fish and chips, burgers, lamb shoulder pot pie, crispy pork belly and duh, steak and chips.  I wanted to eat it all  but alas, I’m not a cow (literally, maybe metaphorically) so with my single, lonely stomach scenario I had the fish and chips with mushy peas.  Good news, they didn’t fuck it up.  Then to seal their verdict, they brought around tasting plates with free tastes for all.  Of course, that’s always my favourite price.

Advance Australia Fair motherfuckers, who said this country wasn’t fair anymore?

The verdict:
Fuck yeah!

Where:
Sixpenny (praise be Australia and your functional websites)
83 Percival Rd
Stanmore NSW Australia

Phone:
+612 9572 6666

Price:
AUD180 each including ordering wine/champagne.  AUD135 for the large 8 course degustation course.

The deal:
Sixpenny is a degustation or bust scenario. Six or eight courses and we went (predictably) with the larger lucky eight course option.  My food wank alarm bells were going off when they said they wouldn’t give us a menu to keep an element of surprise throughout the evening, but for once they were unfounded.  Fuck me, I’m going to come straight out – this was the good shit.  It makes you realise that for all the food wank, pretentious bullshit and philosophising that restaurants participate in that there are actually chefs that can actually have a vision, stay true to it and not end up being a massive money grabbing, disappointing, proselytising form over substance douchebag about it.

Six Penny make a lot of their own shit (sour cream, bread, butter) and grow their own produce.  Often with a degustation there’s a course which is fucked up (see also: dat macaron at Mejekawi) or at least disappointing but here’s some good shit that happened at Sixpenny.

  • Service – besides the fact that the restaurant was loud as fuck so my old lady ears could barely hear the descriptions, the staff were bang on.  My husband kept throwing his napkin on the floor and it was deftly picked up each time.  A tall Frenchman provided laser sharp silver service without nary a glance at what he was doing.
  • Produce – hot damn, I’ve finally eaten a a baby leek or a carrot as a ‘course’ and didn’t feel a wave of proteinless disappointment wash over me.
  • Bread – I genuinely was full as fuck but had to have a big cup of HTFU and snacked down a second bread roll.  Yeah, don’t mind me as I pile on the house made butter and marscapone spread.  That fucking good.
  • Wine list – wasn’t immediately bankrupt by merely looking at the wine list.  Never had the chance to make ‘thirsty face’ at the waiters because my glass was totally optimistic and always full.
  • Presentation – A++++ would buy again presentation – carefully picked plates, beds of baby olive leaves and no errant sauce smears that looked like skid marks.
  • Genuine Aesop soap – I’m taking a stand, I’m calling out every restaurant I go to from now on which buys one dispenser of Aesop soap and then thinks their customers are dumb as shit and won’t realise that they are refilling it with supermarket hand soap.  Sixpenny were keeping it real.  Real cedar like. Mad props for keeping the soap dope.

I don’t want to get all poetic on your ass but this was one of the best meals I’ve had in 2013.  The baby beetroot baked in a salt crust was a fuck yeah.  The veal was a fuck yeah.  The crab with macadmia was a massive fuck yeah.  Even the course where the carrot was the star of the masterpiece was a fuck yeah.  So here’s a big fuck yeah to restaurants having a philosophy but not being total fuckwit wankers about it.

The verdict:
One of the best meals I’ve had in 2013. FUCK YEAH!!

Where:
The Cut Bar & Grill
16 Argyle St
Millers Point, NSW
Australia

Phone:
+61 2 9259 5695

Price:
Steaks ranged from AUD40-60.  We got out at AUD130 each including sides, wine and a cocktail.

The deal:

We booked here for four and when we arrived, we watched four people just ahead of us, without a booking, get seated at a table.  Presumably, our table.  Front of house was all ‘Sorry guys! We’re just waiting for a table, do you mind getting a drink at the bar and waiting?’ and my congenial friends were very polite about it and agreed.  I realised that I’d lost that loving Aussie feeling when I would have arced up all HK style ‘Excuse me, but didn’t we have a booking?  And isn’t the point of a booking that you reserve me a table ahead of people who didn’t make a booking? So really, when you took our booking it didn’t really mean much to you on the execution side, did it?’.  Regardless, I bit my tongue and sucked down a Capriniha at the bar while reminiscing that sure, shit in Sydney is expensive (cocktails were AUD19 – AUD28 each) but it could be worse, we could be in Perth!

As my friend pointed out, you don’t come to a steak restaurant and then order the gnocchi or the salmon so we all got to The Main Event.  I’ve given my Sydney trip a tag line of Meatapalooza 2013 and trust me, it’s been a big fucking meatfest since I’ve landed.  I ordered the Wagyu scotch fillet (check this nomenclature out – Sher F1 Wagyu 400-day, Grain Fed Marble Score 7) at a fucking hefty AUD59 each.  WHOA and that doesn’t even include sauce, that’s another AUD5.  Add 3 sides to that for another AUD22 and we are looking at a big price tag here for a steak.  Once I’m paying AUD60+ for a steak it’s got to be pretty fucking spectacular and let’s be real – this steak was ok but it wasn’t blowing my motherfucking mind.  As my friend pointed out later, ‘I’ve had similar quality steaks for AUD30’.  The Bordelaise sauce was too salty (and it wasn’t even included in the large and in charge steak price at an additional AUD5 – HAI The Cut, Y UR sauce not included??).  Sides were ok.  Potato puree (whatevs The Cut, it’s goddamn mash) was white and mashed but not much else.  I guess their shoestring fries were crispy but no shit, I can get crispy shoestring fries at McDonalds.

Highlight of the meal was commandeering the Tinder account of one of our dining companions and making her:

  1. use adapted lyrics from “Sexy Bitch” by David Guetta feat. Akon as opening lines – this culminating in this match receiving “Nothing you can compare to your neighborhood hoe” and him asking ‘What is hoe?’ with us giving him the terse response of ‘It’s a garden tool’. 
  2. trot out unacceptable pick up lines to guys she had no interest in (example:  “I’m eating a steak while looking for meat” – disappointing that her ‘match’ then took 20 minutes to respond with a terrible line.  Even if I allowed him 5 minutes to go and high five himself in the mirror, he should have been all over that like white on rice)
  3. ask guys point blank why they are reaching “for the D” in their profile pics.

Looks like the AUD60 steak had stiff competition, DAMN GIRL.

The verdict:
Fuck no.

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